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Head of Robotic Agriculture gives evidence for Welsh Government's Industry 4.0 report

Posted 20 August

"The technology that we’ve got in the UK is as good as anywhere else in the world, if not better. "

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Expertise from Harper Adams University features in a new report from the Welsh Assembly Government, focussing on how the nation can make the most of what has been described as the “fourth industrial revolution” through automation and artificial intelligence.

The report, Industry 4.0 – the future of Wales, was released on August 17th and includes evidence provided by Professor Simon Blackmore, Head of Robotic Agriculture at Harper Adams, to the Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee.

Professor Blackmore was on the panel giving evidence on Precision Agriculture – one of four panels of witnesses to have informed the new report. According to the report, the witnesses called for 1) good, reliable broadband in rural areas 2) Demonstration farms across Wales to showcase cutting edge technology and 3) Support for start-ups, which have the potential to make major impacts in this area; in order to drive forward precision agriculture in Wales.

Professor Blackmore told the committee the UK was in a good position to lead the robotic agriculture industry, saying, “The technology that we’ve got in the UK is as good as anywhere else in the world, if not better. We’re one of the leading areas”. He called upon the Welsh Government to set up research farms in Wales, a nation he described as “disenfranchised from the use of these big machines, because predominantly you’ve got small and medium-sized farms and small and medium-sized fields”. New developments in precision agricultural technology are delivering small machines that are better suited to farms in Wales, he told the committee.

Introducing the report, Committee Chairman Russell George AM writes: “The Welsh economy is facing the challenge of a lifetime. As in previous industrial revolutions, there is an opportunity for transformation – both positive and negative. For every prediction that tens of thousands of jobs could be lost, there is another study talking up the positives of robots taking the drudgery from our work lives.

“This inquiry has not followed the normal path – and this report is a beginning rather than an end. The Committee has sought to raise awareness of some key ideas and concepts, and engage a discussion about how Wales is preparing for 4.0. … The growing body of studies and reports concerning automation and AI give a range of outcomes. It is clear that failure to prepare will be preparing to fail in this brave new world.

“…The challenges of automation and artificial intelligence have the potential to dominate the next 30-40 years. It is vital Wales is ready not merely to respond, but able to shape the debate so that rather than being blown away by strong winds of change, we can harness them to propel our sails.”

Read the report: Industry 4.0 – the future of Wales

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